December 25, 2006

JFI-Thenga Chor/ Malabar Coconut Rice

AJFI-Jihva for Coconuts would be incomplete without a word on the coconut itself. It is said that there are as many coconut trees in Kerala as there are stars in the sky. Anyone who has even the tiniest pocket of land would have at least a couple of palms on it. Coconut palms endearingly dot the front yard and backyard of every house along the Southern Coast. There coconuts are freshly grated for every dish and even now, the preferred drink for guests are tender coconut water blended with the soft coconut flesh, cardamom and sugar.


I remember being asked to write essays on the beneficial qualities of the palm tree in school and wondering what good this would do in my education. What was then disregarded as homework and written by rote, now interests me as everyone around me is concerned about organic and functional utility. The palms are hand harvested by agile climbers. They use just two loops of coir rope(which is organic made from coconut husk) one for the hands and one for the feet to climb up the 20-30 odd feet up to the bunches of fruits. The palms also act as support for the pepper vines.

Climbing tree

Anywhere from 5-20 coconuts are harvested from a single palm depending on the type and age of the palm. If left unharvested, they over mature and start dropping off one by one. If we were around during the harvest, we would plead for tender coconuts and spend the afternoon scraping out the soft flesh and guzzling the coconut water. The coconut water is sweet when found inside unripe coconuts and turns a bit bitter as the fruit matures and the flesh thickens up.

Every part of the fruit from the husk to the shell and the flesh inside is used in some way or the other. As everyone knows, the white flesh is grated and used in curries or ground to extract the milk. The extra coconuts are stacked in a dry place, sometimes over the kitchen attic, dried over indirect heat into Khopra, which are then pressed to yield coconut oil. Coconut oil extracted from the dried Khopra possesses healing properties as shown here and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations.
Though badly maligned here, the health benefits of coconut oil is still being researched and debated. however, it still has fat calories similar to cream and should be used sparingly.

When the JFI ingredient was announced, it was a question of what not to post as a lot of our traditional recipes are based on coconut. I chose coconut rice for the JFI to highlight the unique flavor of coconut and rice together. Adding coconut milk to rice is common in Thai and Malaysian cooking but adding it with fenugreek and fennel seeds is unique to the Malabar region. The bitterness of the fenugreek is nice contrast to the sweetness of the coconut and fennel seeds. Try this with any spicy curry and lentils.

You will need:
Kali Jeera Rice or any medium grain rice - 3 cups or 500 gm
Cardamom(Elakkai/Elaichi) -3
Fennel Seeds (perunjeerakam/saunf)-1 ½ tsp
Fenugreek seeds(Uluva/Methi)- 2 tsp
Shallots/ Red Pearl Onions-12
Coconut Grated- 2or3 cups or 1 can coconut milk.
Ghee/Olive oil – 1 tsp
Salt- 3/4 tsp or to taste
Water- as needed.
Coconut Milk: Grind the grated coconut with the fennel seeds, cardamom, 5 shallots and1 cup water for a minute and then put it in a blender processing it at high speed. Strain with the back of a spoon into a strainer, pressing out all the liquid. Repeat blending using the same coconut and ¾ cup water as the coconut is already moist and extract into a separate bowl. This can be done twice or thrice as the second and even third extracts is the thin coconut milk which has flavor and is used as cooking liquid instead of water. The first milk is to be kept aside to be added to the rice only after it is fully cooked. You should have 1 cup of first milk and at least 4-5 cups of the thin milk after extraction.
1. Clean, wash and drain the rice. Slice the remaining shallots finely. Keep the coconut milk ready.
2. Heat the ghee/oil in a heavy sauté pan or a pressure cooker and add the remaining shallots, the fenugreek, the rice and 4 cups of the thin milk. Add water if your thin milk is not enough. The proportion should be 1- 1 1/2 cup of liquid less than needed for full cooking.
3. Bring the liquid to a boil and cover and cook. In a pressure cooker, this would take only 2 whistles and then turn off the flame. Alternately, you could cook it covered in a sauté pan on the cooking range for 10-15 minutes keeping the flame very low. Add salt as needed.
4. Keep the pan covered for another 5 minutes after turning off the flame as the rice will continue cooking. Open, place it back on the fire and add the remaining 1 cup of thin milk and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Check to see if the rice is fully cooked. If not, add more thin milk and let it cook on low heat. When it is fully cooked, add the thick milk and gently fold it in. Do not boil it after the thick milk is added. 5. Remove from fire and let it sit covered for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to soak in. The finished texture should be somewhere in between a creamy risotto and separated overcooked grains.
Fluff the rice gently and serve warm. This is served traditionally with meat curry but any spicy curry will favor it well.

P.S. The liquid needed varies with the type of rice so follow the package instructions for the amount of liquid. Traditionally this is made with parboiled rice, a kind of rice which is steamed before it's husked, a process that causes the grains to absorb many of the nutrients from the husk. When cooked, the grains are more nutritious, firmer, and less clingy than white rice grains. This rice is available in any Indian store and Uncle Ben has a version of parboiled rice which is close to but not exactly the Kerala one.

The cooking time and liquid needed is different for parboiled rice. The water needed is three times the amount of rice so make note and adjust the coconut milk accordingly.
I made a variation and found it tastes just as good with kali jeera rice or any medium grain rice. It cuts down on the cooking time and amount of milk used drastically.
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Ashwini said...

Gorgeous entry. Thanks so much for participating in JFI Shaheen. Cheers and happy holidays

Anonymous said...

Nice picures and nice presentation shaheen..Happy holidays to u & ur family

archana said...

I have had coconut rice Tamilnadu style, but not this way. Must give this a try, thank you for the recipe. Happy holidays to you Shaheen.

sra said...

Nice pics, Shaheen. Makes me ache for our old houses which had gardens and kitchen gardens and backyards full of trees!

Bong Mom said...

Loved those pics Shaheen. Are they from your home town ?
We had been to kerala once around Thekkady and loved it. Always wanted to visit again but haven't had the oppurtunity yet
Your JFI entry is great

Meenal Mehta said...

Hey Shaheen,

just wanted to say hello ..very nice blog u have with lovely picstures

wish u and your family happy new yr :-).I have a food blog..come visit me sometime

indosungod said...

Shaheen nice pictures. Coconut rice looks delicious, but it is defintely a new recipe to make coconut rice.

Chandrika said...

An excellent write up, Shaheen...Coconut rice with fenugreek seeds is very interesting..

Mrs. K said...

There you go...My initial plan was to make coconut rice for jihva with the recipe in ummi abdulla's book. The recipe has coriander seeds, turmeric etc..and also calls for 'boiled rice'. I had no idea how it would look like and also I didn't know what kind of rice to use. I even thought to make it with basmati. So, after a lot of pondering, I gave up the plan. I am so glad to see your recipe. Will try out soon. I still don't know what I would post for jihva! Its coconut and I have tons of ideas..and I am lost!

ByTheBay said...

That sounds just luscious!

Shah cooks said...

Ashwini,Annita,Thanks. happy hols to u too!
Archana, Do try. How is the Tamil nadu rice?This tastes excellant with a meat curry.

Sra, Those pics are from my house nad neighbourhood and they do make one homesick!I do miss the backyards with trees.where are u from?

Sandeepa,yes, they are from my house and hometown. Thekkady is beautiful!so did u go for ur honeymoon?:)

Meenal, Thankas and I will surely visit ur blog!

Indo, how do u make ur coconut rice?

Chandrika, Thanks! Fenugreek adds a special flavor to it. Indira had a similar recipe with methi leaves and coconut milk so there must be some common traditions there.

RP, I know how u feel. I was lost at what to post and then once i made this and when I was writing up on this rice, it suddenly struck me that it could be an entry.The ummi recipe is ok except for the coriander and turmeric. It might be made that way in kannur area, but I haven't had it like that. Try posting a theeyal.

By the bay, Thanks and I do hope u will try it.

Anonymous said...

Shaheen, that's a beautiful post on coconut and a great entry to JFI. Nice recipe and have bookmarked it.

May the new year usher in happiness and blessings to you and your family!

Happy New Year!!


Sri said...

That's so true about coconut trees and star. Beautiful entry for JFI.

I tried your erachi looked really good just like your pic...Thank You Shaheen.

And a Happy New Year to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Awesome entry shaheen :)

Wish you a blessed Eidul Adha to you & your family.
btw, i have guests coming over for Eid. Please drop by Shaheen :)Let me know and i will email you my address.

Anonymous said...

This is neat!!!!! Nice recipe Shaheen :) BTW you have been tagged :) Check my blog. :)

indianadoc said...

Hi Malabar Queen! You are rocking! Have a wonderful new year filled with all the happiness!

Gattina Cheung said...

Shaheen, I'll check the parboiled rice, thanks for the info, and another great write-up!
Have a happy new year!!!

Shah cooks said...

Sailaja,Thanks and happy holidays to you too!!

Sri, glad to know you liked it. Happy hols!

Babli, forgot to ask u. Are you from Kerala? Thanks for inviting me over for Eid, but I would have to keep it for another time. I am having guests and family for the weekend.U can email me at Wish u and ur family a very happy eid.

Rooma Aka Coffee.. thanks and i will check out ur meme.

Shynee.. are u still out there? wish u a very Happy new year! How are you?

GAttina, Thanks and hope u try this rice.

Anonymous said...

shaheen, do you think i can try this rice with basmati?
theeyal sounds like a good idea, but ah..thats a lot of work. :) I took a picture of something i made yesterday . Nothing special, but I am going to blog about it as my jfi entry.

Shah cooks said...

Rp, basmati rice tends to stand apart and this dish needs a little stickiness. Still u could try it as the flavor would still be good but the texture will be different. I am waitng to see ur entry!

Anonymous said...

I also have the long grain rice(from walmart); and the parboiled rice I have is matta/kuthari(longer cooking time). Which one is best among these three?
Also, what is kali jeera rice? Is it pachari?

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading your post..i can only dream of lving in place full of coconut palm trees...~dreaming~...thanks for sharing

Vini K said...

Hi Shaheen,nice coconut rice!and a good amount of info too!Thanks for sharing.

Wish you and your family a very happy and prosperous new year 2007!

Vini,Venkat and Ananya

Anonymous said...

Great entry!I didn't even know such a dish existed in Kerala. Happy New Year to you.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful etry for JFI and nice write-up abt coconuts.

Wishing peace, health, and happiness in 2007 and always. Happy New year to you and your family !

archana said...

Wish you a very Happy New Year Shaheen.

indosungod said...

Wishes for a great Year ahead!

Krithika said...

Choru looks delicious !

New year wishes to you and your family

Nidhi said...

Wish you a very Happy New Year Shaheen. May God bless you and your family with all the happy things in this coming year.

Cheers, Nidhi.

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Unknown said...

Hello there,
You have created a brilliant blog, your love of food comes through in a wonderful way, and love the way you write and create and put the whole thing together.
I read ur comment on coconut oil. Just wanted to bring to your attention a few things. Yes, coconut oil has taken a lot of beatings in the past and unfairly, as it is such a wonderful healing oil. If you ask me what's my knowledge base, I have read extensively on the reasearches done in the past and into the ones done lately etc.
But what I wanted to bring to your attention is this, the benefial oil from coconut is not made from copra, rather from fresh coconut flesh, by cold pressing, technically a virgin oil. As is the case any oil obtained by heat treatment is not beneficial or even harmful as it changes it's molecular structure turning into something undesirable. The cool thing about virgin coconut oil is that unlike virgin olive oils etc. this oil has a very stable structure even at high temperatures, thus making it great for dishes requiring high temperatures. Also this oil increases metabolism rate, and hence very often suggested for obese people.
I'm sorry for the long story, and of course you can ignore me if you are cross :-)
I'm just passionate about ingredients, optimal ways of cooking, nutrition etc.
Thanks for a great blog and lovely recipes, have tried a couple and they turned out yummy !!